Hilda MacDonald

Essex County to hold onto library strike savings, pledge to use it for library purposes

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The $790,000 that was saved during the 230-day Essex County library strike will not be coming back to municipalities.

Instead, Essex County council will set that money aside in a reserve that municipalities and the county itself can tap into for issues specifically related to libraries.

County CAO Brian Gregg noted the $790,000 in savings was due to the money not being spent due to the strike and said it was not administration’s intent to “bury it and have it go away.” The money was temporarily placed in a reserve, he said, with the intent to bring it back to county council for discussion on what to do with it.

“The county doesn’t have a way to rebate this to the ratepayers,” said Gregg.

Gregg suggested there were “a number of ways” the money could be used, suggesting it could be used to support the library system.

Amherstburg Mayor Aldo DiCarlo questioned how much the library system didn’t receive in government funding due to the strike. DiCarlo, who had asked for that figure at prior meetings, was told that it was “coming soon.” Gregg said a review of the figures shows that total is roughly $140,000.

Library workers picket outside of Amherstburg town hall last year. Approximately one year after this photo was taken, Essex County council decided to put $790,000 saved during the library strike into a reserve with the plan of using the money for library-related purposes.

Library workers picket outside of Amherstburg town hall last year. Approximately one year after this photo was taken, Essex County council decided to put $790,000 saved during the library strike into a reserve with the plan of using the money for library-related purposes.

DiCarlo was one of five county council members who opposed the motion.

Amherstburg council was one of the municipalities that asked for the money to be refunded.

Tecumseh Deputy Mayor Joe Bachetti liked the idea of using the funds for library services with Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos making the motion to set the money aside and allowing municipalities to tap into it should their library buildings need capital improvements.

Santos compared it to when Windsor-Essex Economic Development Commission (WEEDC) funding was returned, with the condition that money be used for economic development.

Leamington Deputy Mayor Hilda MacDonald stated the $790,000 was generated because the ratepayers did not get the library services and believed “it absolutely needs to go back to the people” who paid the money to begin with. Leamington Mayor John Paterson believed others on county council were saying local municipalities could not be trusted and believed the county did not need more reserve funds, as it already has $120 million in reserves.

Santos said it wasn’t a matter of trust and said the money will be set aside for when municipalities are ready to put a shovel in the ground for projects.

Amherstburg Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale said he has been hearing from a lot of people wondering what is going on with the money and hopes they can regain trust from those who lost it during the strike.

DiPasquale said after the meeting that the use of the money has been “pretty transparent” thus far. He agreed with the motion.

“It is fairness,” he said. “I hope the public understands that. I thought it was fair.”

Warden Tom Bain said the money was collected through the county levy and believed the big factor is that it will be earmarked specifically for library needs. He indicated the funds could also be used to lower increases brought to county council by the library board at budget time.

Returning the money to ratepayers wouldn’t be worth it, Bain believed, as it would amount to about $4 per resident.

Essex County council votes down proposed EWSWA budget

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The proposed Essex-Windsor Solid Waste Authority (EWSWA) budget has been rejected by Essex County council.

County council unanimously rejected the budget last Wednesday night. The EWSWA budget calls for a zero percent increase in 2017 as well as 2018. The budget was arrived at by the authority Nov. 29 but county representatives slammed the budget that was approved due to Windsor having a majority of members on the board.

A 4.11 per cent increase had been recommended but by passing it with a zero per cent increase, it meant a dip into the EWSWA’s rate stabilization reserve thus bringing it down from $13.2 million to $12.2 million.

Tecumseh Mayor Gary McNamara said the zero per cent budget is “ludicrous” and that operating the landfill with a rate freeze is not realistic.

“At some point in time, you’ve got to pay,” said McNamara. “It makes no sense to me.”

Such factors as rising fuel costs at the landfill have to be dealt with, he continued, and that it was “foolish” to try and accommodate everything “by the skin of your teeth.

“You’ve got to find money somewhere and pay the fiddler up front,” said McNamara. “To me, this is a disservice to our taxpayers in the future. We are mortgaging our future to look good today.”

LaSalle Mayor Ken Antaya, one of the county representatives on the EWSWA board, said he was “surprised beyond belief” that the budget was approved at the authority level with a zero per cent increase. He also questioned whether procedures were violated by passing a motion regarding the 2018 budget.

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To reconsider that motion requires a two-thirds majority, and Antaya was resigned to the fact the county didn’t have enough votes to do so. He also shared similar concerns to McNamara.

“By not paying the bill today, we’re just delaying it for the next generation,” said Antaya.

County council members were also concerned that if a zero per cent increase proceeds for the next two years, EWSWA administration projects that the rate increase could be as high as 9.87 per cent in 2019.

Kingsville Mayor Nelson Santos believed the freezing of rates for two years was more due to “political expediency” than anything else. He believed they would be “going down the wrong path” by approving the budget as presented.

“It doesn’t make business sense,” said Santos.

Essex Mayor Ron McDermott, another member of the EWSWA board, said the county representatives were “100 per cent against” the zero per cent increase. He questioned why city representatives didn’t listen to EWSWA administration as “they do the work” in preparing the budget.

“(Windsor) could care less about families, they could care less about their neighbours,” stated McDermott. “We’re going backwards at zero per cent. I can’t see us doing anything but turn this down. This is terrible that anyone could even think of this.”

There isn’t a lot of “fat” in the EWSWA budget, added Leamington Deputy Mayor Hilda MacDonald, adding county representatives were told they have a “traditional” approach to budgeting.

“To me, this is shortsighted,” said MacDonald. “This doesn’t give a fig about 20 years from now.”

MacDonald added there is no money devoted towards the landfill for its eventual replacement and all the attention is on the debt.

“I think we are realistic,” she said of the county’s approach. “I think it’s common sense. We’re thinking down the road.”

Kingsville Deputy Mayor Gord Queen also blasted the city’s stance and that a near-10 per cent increase would “not be acceptable, period.” Lakeshore Deputy Mayor Al Fazio said recommendations dropped from 5.6 per cent to 4.11 per cent before it was approved by the city at zero per cent.

“The bottom line is it’s a sham,” said Fazio.

Fazio agreed that “you pay now or you pay later,” noting that “there’s not one person that wants to pay taxes.” He also asked whether the issue of 2018 was even on the agenda.

By turning it town, an ad hoc committee featuring administration from both Essex County and Windsor will help set a new budget for both councils to consider.

County to discuss frequency of exterminators with library board

 

By Ron Giofu

 

Essex County council is sending a letter to the library board requesting an increased frequency in visits by exterminators.

In response to the issue of bed bugs causing closure of the Essex County library system last week, Leamington deputy mayor Hilda MacDonald said while the issue was first noticed in her municipality, it arose due to materials being shared between municipalities.

MacDonald suggested monthly visits from exterminators to the branches, noting that bugs can get into reading materials from a person’s bed side or sofa.

The Amherstburg library is now re-open to the public after a bed bug issue caused all Essex County libraries to be closed.

The Amherstburg library is now re-open to the public after a bed bug issue caused all Essex County libraries to be closed.

“I really think monthly visits from an exterminator would be the prudent thing to do,” said MacDonald. “If we want to keep our libraries viable, if we want to keep our libraries inviting places, we have to do something.”

MacDonald said people want to send their children to the library “and not worry about what their child is bringing home.”

Essex deputy mayor Richard Meloche, chair of the Essex County Library Board, said the issue has been debated.

“It’s something the library board has discussed,” said Meloche. “It’s a matter of how often we want to do it.”

Meloche said if every library were to be treated by an exterminator monthly, it would likely mean the library board would ask Essex County council for more funding.

“It’s a costly procedure to do 14 locations on a monthly basis,” said Meloche.

MacDonald replied that making sure the libraries are safe and free of things like bed bugs are more important than coffee stations, furniture or art work.

The Amherstburg branch is now re-open to the public.